What is a Hackathon?
12 Things You Must Know Before Attending
What is a hackathon?
A hackathon is an event where different teams compete in real world coding challenges. The teams present the solution to a panel of judges.
Who organizes hackathons and how do they design the challenge?
A wide variety of companies and organizations host hackathons. Some sources say up to 80% of Fortune 100 companies host hackathons. These companies use hackathons as a way of finding new talent, and a way of finding solutions to problems.
Who participates in hackathons?
Example industries that commonly feature hackathons include: fintech, IT, engineering, software, AI /machine learning, IoT and more! Most hackathons are related to programming or technology.
They attract a diverse crowd from different backgrounds for different reasons. Some participants are motivated by the chance to find a new job. Others want to network, and everyone is there to improve their technical skills and have fun. A hackathon is a great opportunity to meet people, and build an awesome portfolio project. Many times the companies sponsoring hackathons use these events to find new talent.
How are the teams formed in a hackathon?
Hackathon team sizes vary from independent developers to large teams. Sometimes you can pick your own team, but if you don’t have a team already, you can join an existing one.
Is there a price?
Not necessarily. One of the most popular is HackMIT, sponsored by Microsoft, IBM, and Facebook. There is no entry fee to attend, however there is a puzzle that must be solved to register. HackMIT includes students from around the world, with both software and hardware challenges. There are topics including healthcare, community, education, and sustainability. Another popular hackathon is HackZurich in Switzerland. This hackathon is also free, and features many industry sponsors. Another one to watch-out for is the IIT Bombay Python hackathon. There is no registration fees for individuals.
How do the judges determine the winner?
The judging process varies, but typically features the following characteristics:
Impact of the project – does this project have a large impact for people? Does it solve a big problem?
Feasibility – is the solution proposed feasible from a technical standpoint? Is it possible to use this solution in industry?
Innovation – Did the team innovate to solve them problem? How original is it? Business value – Will this solution help businesses be more profitable?
Hackathons have a review process at the end, and can also include a presentation. Clearly communicating your idea can make the difference. The judges are typically experts from industry.
When was the first hackathon?
OpenBSD held the world’s first Hackathon in Calgary in 1999. The concept has only grown since then, with no signs of slowing down. There are even hackathons held between multiple cities now. Busses carry attendees between locations as a way of connecting people.
Do you have to be an expert at programming? What background should I have?
No. A hackathon is an great way to improve your skills, and add projects to your portfolio. There are also competitions on topics including science, music, and art. They are great for beginners, university students, professional developers, and entrepreneurs. For a beginner just starting out, a hackathon is an amazing opportunity to learn from others. The added challenge of the time window, and competiton setting push you to do your best.
How can you prepare for a hackathon?
Hackathons can have a large crowd, putting stress on the WiFi network’s capacity. It is wise to set your machine up ahead of time with the tools you will need. A hackathon can be a great place to meet like minded people. It is a good idea to bring business cards, a link to your portfolio website, or to clean up your GitHub first. You can have a way to stay in contact with anyone you meet, and it makes a good impression for job opportunities. Brush up on any technical skills you might need for the hackathon based on what approach you plan to use. For example if you are planning to use Python, make sure to brush up on common algorithms, packages, and set up your IDE.
How long are hackathons? Are there prizes?
Hackathons are typically a weekend long but can vary in length.
Yes some companies offer prizes as an incentive for teams to find solutions for problems. Some of them have had prizes of $1 Million for winning solutions.
What do people gain from attending a hackathon?
Basically it is a great way to gain practical experience, and make lasting connections in industry. A hackathon can level up your technical skills, and leave you with a great portfolio of projects for future opportunities. Attending a hackathon is a must for any skill level!
Who designs the hackathon challenge?
A hackathon challenge is chosen based on a problem that the company or organization has. Lets say a tech company is has a scalability problem with a messaging app. They could host a hackathon, and use the problems submitted as a solution. Usually the senior developers or project managers choose topics for the hackathon. This is part of what makes a hackathon so practical! The problems you are solving are of real world importance.